Featured Author: Magdalena Zurawski

Statement on Crossings
When you asked me to comment about my novel in terms of "Crossing," I didn't think I would have much to say, but now I think I might be able to say a little. I'm not sure if the novel is cross-genre. (That's the first "cross" word you suggested.) There's a couple of poems excerpted in it. But there's a lot of poems in a George Eliot novel and I don't think that's cross-genre, nor would many other people. And a couple people have suggested that it isn't a novel, but a poem disguised as a novel. That might be true. I paid a lot of attention to the sounds of words and the breath of the reader, and I have never really written prose before, or taken a class on how to write prose, but only know some things about poetry. So I am sure I didn't write a novel correctly and only used what I knew about poetry to try to write what I thought was all along a novel. So maybe it isn't a cross-genre work, as much as a work that failed to cross over into the genre it wanted to be. That seems to me the most satisfying answer insofar as the whole novel worries about change being possible. Why shouldn't the form itself?

The kind of crossing I'm more interested in thinking about right now, especially in regards to this book, has to do with the relationship between textual space and extra-textual space, or, as my narrator, who is both me and not me, would say, the relationship between the writing in books and the real life outside of books. I've been thinking about this a lot while walking my dogs this week. I'm wondering if a writer isn't a kind of failed magician. Or if it's an erroneous gesture for a reader or a writer to apply the kind of thinking required in the space of the book to a space outside of the book. What I mean is, a reader or a writer is praised for the correspondences she can make between things in the space of a book. The more unexpected relationships or links I can make between different ideas or objects in my book, the "smarter" I'll appear as a writer. The same goes for a reader. The person who can point out the most relationships between things, who can make the most meanings, is the best student. And maybe this is true in the game of reading. A magician, if I remember my Spicer correctly, is a person who does this in the world, in the object world. A magician creates correspondences between things that another person wouldn't necessarily see and that's where the magic comes from. But I'm beginning to think that for a person to read the world in the same way that she reads a text is a kind of false or failed magic, if only because the world is not a sealed system the way a book is. A book is a limited set, whereas the world is infinite. We don't get the whole story when we are outside of a book, but the practice of reading books, especially if we are good at it, might make us confident enough to read the real this way. I think it gives us a false sense of control because the world is too big. Too many things remain outside our ken. So to create a narrative based on certain coincidences of experiences, to read life the way we read a book, seems to me, at least this week, emotionally dangerous. We can ascribe people and places too much significance. Maybe I'm just feeling a victim of my own magic because the book uses so much of me as material for itself. The life of my early twenties is the furniture of the novel, though the majority of events are invented. But in the writing process the text started echoing so many parts of itself that it seemed so much smarter than me. Everything corresponded. I think I began to believe it could reach out beyond its pages, cross over into my life and make meanings where there maybe were none to be made. But maybe most things that happen outside of books aren't meant to contribute to a person's narrative of self. Maybe to try to make meanings in your life the way you would in a book is simply the tic of a reader. Maybe reading only works in books.

Excerpt from The Bruise
The Melting Heads
Shortly after L-- left me it seemed as though my entire person was reduced to being a weak ache of body so much so that I didn’t hear poems anymore and I had no thoughts that went beyond understanding how to move myself through time and space. The only thing I felt was a mild ache in my bones that seems hardly worth calling an ache because in truth it didn’t cause me any pain but simply made my body heavy as if I wore everywhere the lead apron given to me by an x-ray technician whose office I didn’t remember visiting. So even to name the feeling I am describing as an ache is not accurate but I know no name for the weight I felt that was not the ache of any specific ailment but only the slight and constant annoyance of having a body.

And whoever had given me the bruise was sending me now a revisionary message but this time because I had never felt so alone I could no longer see anyone except myself in the shower room mirror or the brass doorknob so the new message didn’t come through a dream or a poem but instead through a book that someone else had written. The book was a book I had found on one of the reading tables in the Periodicals Room as I was on my way to my seat in the Rockefeller Library. I had stopped to look at the book not because I had recognized the name or the author of the book but because I had seen the book out of the corner of my eye as I passed it on the table and the cover was a special cover that caught my eye. A cover that had three different paintings of a man’s face melting on it and there was something that I had liked about the way the faces looked when they were melting and I think it was that the faces when they were melting looked not like faces of dripping paint but like faces of melting flesh and the flesh didn’t look so much like flesh but meat. And since there were no faces really left in the paintings but only these melting heads of flesh that looked like meat there must have been something that I also liked about the fact that the faces weren’t faces any more but only heads made of meat. And even though in the book there were no more pictures of the heads of meat only the author’s ideas about what it meant for this painter whose name was Bacon (which somehow seemed right for a painter who made pictures of heads that looked like meat) to make a picture a portrait of a person that turned the face into a head of meat I decided to read the book since the pictures so much seemed right to me that I was willing to read about them even without being able to see them and though the book was a little bit difficult for me to understand especially without pictures to show me all the ideas about flesh and faces and heads and meat that the author saw in Bacon’s paintings there was one idea that was easy for me to understand and it stuck with me and because it was easy for me to understand I thought that it must be an idea that I needed at that moment because I was so sad that L-- had left me.

The idea that I liked so much was the idea that in the paintings the faces turn into melting heads because the faces are mostly trying not to be faces anymore and the faces are attached to bodies that don’t want to be bodies anymore. What I mean is or what the author meant was that the people in the paintings are trying not to be flesh and blood any more and so the melting head of meat is just the first step in a long process of not being flesh and blood anymore and so the painter by being this kind of melting meat painter is helping the person’s whole body begin to disappear. And so the book said that when a person is screaming in one of Bacon’s painting it’s not exactly like the person is screaming just to scream -- just to show that something hurts -- but the person is trying to create an opening -- a hole -- for the body to slip out of itself. So when there is a painting with a melting head that is screaming the head is really trying to melt into and out of the open mouth and disappear into a sound so it doesn’t have to be a body anymore and there was something about that idea that I really liked and I think that I liked the idea because it seemed to be the opposite idea that the bruise wanted to give me or that the poem gave me because it seemed to me that the bruise and the poem had made me try to become a face and a body when I had just been a head of meat waiting to slip out of my own mouth like an idea. But then the bruise came and the poem came and it seemed like all those things came to bring me back into my body so that I would finally kiss L-- and finally become a person. But even though I kissed L-- and let myself be a person in a body still L-- left me and suddenly now it didn’t seem so important to have a body anymore and it didn’t even feel very good to have a body anymore and even when I was with L-- it was very confusing to have a body but even though it was confusing at least when I was with her there seemed the possibility that I wouldn’t be lonely anymore but now that L-- was gone it didn’t seem very important to have a body anymore because the body just seemed to make the loneliness worse. So when I read this book even though I thought it was a message from the same person who gave me the bruise and the poem and all my dreams I wondered if it was really the same person at all and I thought maybe this was a message from another voice -- a voice that was against the voice that gave me the bruise and the poem -- a voice that didn’t want me to be a person in a body anymore. And I thought maybe this new voice was a better smarter voice that knew it was better not to have a body but I didn’t even know if all these signs came from angels or ghosts or voices or if all these messages were coming from different parts of me and with all the confusion it was impossible to know who I should listen to or what exactly I was listening to. But the idea that a body could so much no longer want to be itself that it could scream just to fall out of itself seemed like a real idea to me and sometimes late at night when I couldn’t sleep because I was too much thinking about how it used to feel to sleep next to L-- I would open my mouth and although I wouldn’t scream I would keep my mouth wide open until I fell asleep just to see if suddenly my body would slip out of my mouth in the middle of the night and I would become something else but I never did. And I liked the idea that even when the person in the painting was too tired of being a person to scream and free himself that even when he was so tired that he had to lean over a sink in the painting that the flesh was still willing enough to melt even though there was no mouth to melt through and the sink knowing that there was no mouth for the person to fall through let the melting flesh fall and escape down the drain. The drain was there for the flesh to fall through so that the person could finally disappear from the world and no longer have to be himself.

And the more I read about how Bacon liked to turn peoples’ faces into heads of meat so they could melt away and not have to be people anymore the more I wondered if when he walked down the street and looked at peoples’ faces if he could actually see how much the people didn’t want to be in their own faces anymore. And then I wondered what it would mean to see a person’s face and see how much the person didn’t want to be in her face and so because the face showed so much how it didn’t want to be a face the person looking at that face would not see the face but only see this melting head of meat that was really the first step in helping the person escape her face. And when I thought about that I began to think that the painter was almost like a saint saving people from the flesh and helping them become part of the spirit world faster and if he only could do in real life what he did in his paintings there would be so much less sadness in the world.

And in the mornings after I hardly slept because I missed L-- so much I wondered while brushing my teeth in the shower room if the horrible feeling that I was feeling in my body because I was no longer with L-- I wondered if the horrible feeling was actually my flesh not wanting to be flesh anymore and I wondered if I leaned there on the sink long enough if I would just melt down into the drain and disappear into the spirit world. And because I never fell out of my mouth at night or down the drain in the morning even though I felt like I didn’t want to be a body anymore I began to wonder if the idea that Bacon was painting was actually an idea for real life or just an idea for paintings. And since I hadn’t even really seen any of the paintings but only read about them in the book I thought maybe the idea wasn’t even an idea that worked in paintings and I wondered if when I actually saw the paintings of the scream and the sink if I would really look at the paintings and think that the bodies were really trying and wanting to melt out of their own flesh. And the less I melted when I wanted to and the more I thought about this idea I wondered how it would even be possible to have a painting that could really show this idea and maybe the idea was just the idea of the author of the book -- an idea that he had while writing about the paintings after not looking at them for a very long time because I knew that it was easy to write anything that you imagined with words because words could say anything especially when a person just started typing with a small idea and let the words take over the idea. But I wondered if a painting could really show that a person just standing over a sink was really a body that wanted to melt and fall down the drain of the sink. And so the next time I went back to the library I went to the card catalog and found a book with pictures by Francis Bacon and when I went to the third floor into the stacks and found the book and opened it the first picture I saw was not one of the pictures I had come to see. It was not of a man screaming or of a man leaning over a sink waiting to melt down the drain but it was a picture of a man sitting. The picture was of a man sitting on a white table with wooden legs. A table that was long enough to reach across the painting left to right. And it was impossible to say where the table was exactly except in the painting because in the painting there was nothing but a color for a background. A bright orange color. So it was impossible to tell where the table was exactly because the background was not a specific place but just a color and not a place -- a very beautiful bright orange place that was not a place. And the man on the table was sitting in such a way that his right leg was extended in front of him and that leg was a horizontal line across the middle of the painting -- just as horizontal as the table top. And the other leg -- the left leg which was deeper in the painting because the figure was extending his right leg from left to right in the painting -- was bent into a V and the man’s arm was clasping the bent leg right below the knee. And the head of the man was turning into the painting so that I couldn’t see the face of the man just his back and on his back there was a very deep cut and the deep cut was the first thing I noticed when I looked at the painting and when I saw the deep red cut that looked like a long red gash I immediately imagined the rest of the man falling into the cut as if the cut were like a drain and I imagined the whole man disappearing and there being nothing left in the painting except the table the beautiful orange color and a floating red mark that used to be a gash in the body but was really a gateway to a whole other universe where flesh no longer had to be itself and when I thought all these things I remembered that I had thought them all because I had just read a book that had said all these things almost and so I began to wonder if I actually would have thought these thoughts if I had never read the book about the paintings. I wondered if I would have thought these things if I had only just seen the paintings and so I closed the book of pictures and opened it again to see if a picture was as strong as an idea about a picture and when I opened the book again I saw the same thing. I saw the entire body wanting to slip out of itself through the long red gash in the man’s back and because I could see the want so much I could also make myself see what wasn’t happening on the painting and one more time I saw the whole body falling into the cut on the back and disappearing. And again in my mind I imagined the beautiful painting that was just the table and the lovely orange color and the beautiful red gash floating by itself in mid-air with no body to hold it anymore and I wondered what would have happened to me if the bruise on my forehead hadn’t been a bruise on my forehead but a deep cut on my back.

Magdalena Zurawski's Blog (with reading dates): http://minoramerican.blogspot.com/
FC2 Page: http://fc2.org/zurawski/bruise/bruise.htm
Review of
The Bruise: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6584376.html
Excerpt of
 The Bruise in Shampoo: http://www.shampoopoetry.com/ShampooTwentynine/zurawski.html

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